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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Student safety concerns as homeless tents appear near middle school in Koreatown

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On September 12, roughly a dozen tents line the sidewalk on North Juanita Avenue, adjacent to Virgil Middle School. Although an “End School Zone” sign prominently stands within the vicinity, its presence has done little to deter this assembly. [Sangjin Kim, The Korea Daily]

Virgil Middle School in LA’s Koreatown faces an emerging issue: a significant homeless tent encampment developing nearby.

Multiple tents have recently emerged along Beverly Boulevard, close to North Vermont Avenue, where the middle school stands. This has raised concerns regarding the safety and well-being of students, parents, and local residents.

These tents, located across a fenced-in athletic field, provide shelter to an estimated 15 homeless individuals.

Elsie Nzulu, a parent to a sixth-grader at Virgil, remarked during an interview with Fox 11 News Los Angeles, “It’s ridiculous. Everywhere you turn, you see them. We need to build more apartment facilities for them. They need a lot of help.”

In December 2022, the presence of a similar tent camp hindered students from using the sidewalk, leading to instances of begging and intimidation by homeless individuals, consequently sparking concerns about safety and sanitation.

Despite the recurring nature of this issue, when tents are cleared, they seem to reappear shortly after.

In August 2022, the L.A. City Council passed an ordinance that prohibited homeless encampments within 500 feet of public educational institutions, including schools and daycare centers. Yet, strict enforcement of this rule remains absent.

The office of 13th District Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez commented, “While we emphasize removing homeless tents near schools and parks, the scarcity of housing solutions is evident. We’re earnestly seeking relocation options.”

District 13 currently offers 400 beds for the homeless, but these are invariably occupied.

Mark Lee, president of the Wilshire Center-Koreatown Neighborhood Council (WCKNC), noted, “The Olympic Police Department faces criticism every time they act. The reality is that a significant majority of these homeless individuals either battle mental illness or substance addiction. Simply evicting them isn’t the solution; we must collaborate with governmental bodies to ensure they’re sheltered.”

Homelessness in Koreatown ranks as the third-highest grievance in the city.

Data from MYLA311, a public service complaint portal, shows 1,796 reports of homeless tent camps within the WCKNC’s jurisdiction from January 1 to September 12. Streets like Normandy, Kenmore, and Berendo top the complaint list, signaling the severity of the issue.

Issues reported include garbage accumulation, foul odors, and obstruction of pathways. Mark Lee mentioned a specific complaint on September 12, highlighting concerns of fire risk and theft at a camp on New Hampshire. He added, “We plan to present a resident-signed petition and photographs to the LAPD and the city and county of Los Angeles.”

▶ For WCKNC complaints: Contact 323-200-5532, lacitync@gmail.com, or KakaoTalk (ID: lacitync)

BY SUAH JANG, YEJIN KIM [kim.yejin3@koreadaily.com]